Will the Kanchi Mutt regain its past glory, now that the verdict on the sensational murder case is out, giving a clean chit to the pontiffs?
Will the thousand-plus years old , hallowed mutt reverberate with endless footfalls of the artistes, politicians, business icons, policy makers and the ordinary devotee, as it used to in its heydays?
Will the devout, who had distanced themselves from the Mutt, move closer once again?
"Seeing the pontiffs imprisoned in the murder of another temple official was a shocking turn of events, and the damage to the revered institution has been a huge blow. Although everyone has been acquitted , you cannot forget the past, " says a devotee.
On September 2, 2004, A Shankararaman, manager, Sri Varadarajaperumal Temple, Kanchipuram, and a fierce critic of the acharyas accusing them of mismanagement and misdeeds was brutally murdered.
Weeks later, on Diwali night Jayendra Saraswathi was arrested in Mahabubnagar, Andhra, and spent over 130 days in jail. Vijayendra Saraswathi, the junior acharya was arrested in January 2005 and spent a month in prison.
As an aside, a number of sleazy accusations were made against the Mutt head, and public figures including a Coimbatore based female novelist and an actor-anchor-dancer were the subject of gossip columns. Over the course of nine years, 187 witnesses were identified.
Heading the investigation, the then Superintendent of Police K Prem Kumar (now deceased) tried to dig up dirt on the pontiffs to prove the prevailing theory that the religious heads ordered the hit on Shankararaman. A number of witnesses were taken into illegal custody, while others said they were forced to give statements.
On Wednesday, Puducherry's Principal District Sessions Judge CS Murugan acquitted Jayendra Saraswathi and Vijayendra Saraswathi, the senior and junior pontiffs of the Kanchi Sankara Mutt prime accused in the sensational Sankararaman murder case, saying the prosecution failed to prove the motive for the murder.
The judge also acquitted all the other 22 accused in the nine year old murder case, in what was touted as an 'open and shut case', since the witnesses turned hostile. The prosecution's number one witness Padma, wife of the slain Shankararaman, as well as their son and daughter failed to identify the accused in court, thereby collapsing the case against all the accused. In short, the prosecution had failed to build the proverbial box around the accused.
After the judgment, the senior pontiff did not articulate his reaction as he was on a 'mouna vrath' (vow of silence) that day. However, a full page advertisement was released in the papers by the Mutt saying ' Truth has won, that is what matters.'
Before his arrest in Andhra, Jayendra Saraswathi had a high profile as a seer. He was a national figure on the Ayodhya issue. The Mutt, which had been merely a spiritual retreat until then, had gone for an image make-over in the post liberalization era, emerging as a socio-spiritual mutt, with the senior seer foraying into education, private health care.
His sound bytes were much sought after by the national media in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. And yet, when he was being delivered, the national media did not pitch camp.
Experts say the accused may have been acquitted but the question 'whodunit' remains unanswered. The public figures whose reputations were sullied have faced personal loss, but there is no clue as to how , if at all, they will be compensated. "The verdict is an embarrassment for Jayalaithaa. The mutt and seers will not get the same respect as they did nine years ago," says a senior political editor, reacting to the verdict.
However, not everyone is sounding the death knell yet, for the Mutt's hoary tradition. 'Cho' Ramaswamy, political commentator and founder- editor of Tughlak magazine says the mutt's image will not take a beating because of the murder charges and the subsequent acquittal.
"A mutt's image is dependent upon devotion, and people are still devout. Of course, it had been shackled by statutes, lawyers and their arguments, the media, the gossip columnists and a whole lot of others. The mutt simply will have to come out of all that. One need not be concerned about the image of the Kanchi mutt," he adds.
Will the ancient mutt succeed in pulling itself up and once again be the epicenter of the think tanks and the globe trotters , as well the humble devotee seeking the mutt to derive a moment of peace ? "It is going to be a bit of an uphill task, but it is doable," says N Sundaram, a septuagenarian.
Other columns by the author:
Chennai is a huge canvas, I tried to fill it: Nirmala Lakshman
Love marriage in Tamil Nadu? Go to Court
BJP party deaths in TN: Politics or personal?
Dalit boy's death: A Vanniyar group that is fighting against casteism
Anti-woman attitudes fueling caste violence in TN
Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist